‘Cats Across Continents’ Trip to Nicaragua a Life-Changing Experience for K-State Student-Athletes

The cement was dry and a variety of athletic balls waited to be bounced. When given the go-ahead, several Nicaraguan children took full advantage of the multi-purpose court, a community feature they never had before 15 K-State student-athletes helped build one last week.

“Literally, these kids were so happy to just play. They were dribbling soccer balls, volleyballs. They didn’t care what it was,” K-State rowing’s Jordan Lund said, shortly after arriving back to Manhattan on Sunday. “They just wanted to play. I think that was really eye opening for me and shows how much I took for granted because I can think of four or five parks within easy biking distance from my house in Wichita, whereas they had nothing before this, so just having something simple made them so excited.”

This was one of several moments to stick with the Wildcats who went on the nine-day trip, which was K-State’s second partnership between its “Cats Across Continents” program and Courts for Kids. Put together, these experiences were life changing.

“It was one of the best experiences of my life. It’s such a blessing when you can go into a different country and learn about a new culture. It opens up your mind like a volcano, erupting new perspectives,” K-State track and field’s Kaneil Harrison said. “I realized that the people there have the ability to love unconditionally and for that reason I’m forever grateful for the experience.”

“To be able to go to a culture and completely immerse yourself in something that’s totally outside of your comfort zone was really eye opening for me,” added K-State track and field’s Mitchell Dixon. “It gave me an appreciation for what I have here in the (United) States and what K-State provides, but also an appreciation that it doesn’t take much to be happy. I witnessed a community that has much less than what we would consider to be a lot and to them it was enough. All of them were incredibly happy every single day, and with what little they had, they still wanted to give.”

K-State track and field senior Rhizlane Siba, a native of Morocco who’s traveled all over the world to high jump, said she gained more from this service trip to Nicaragua than she ever anticipated. “This trip with the K-State family made me realize a lot of details that go unseen whenever you’re in your comfort zone. It literally took me on other levels of knowing who I am and why I stand here, not just as a student-athlete or as a girl but more as a human,” she said. “I’m so grateful for this experience and K-State giving me this opportunity to go and represent the family and just realize a lot about myself.”

From start to finish, Dixon said the court took about five days to complete, which was faster than expected despite the concrete mixer breaking. Days started at around 7 a.m., with rice and beans being the usual breakfast course. The first round of work lasted until around noon and was followed by another three or four in the afternoon.

The 15 Wildcats and four K-State Athletics staff members were joined by a large number of Nicaraguan community members, including several children once their school day ended, in the court-building process. Despite the language barrier between the two groups, they found a way to work together to accomplish their shared goal.

“The language barrier was immense but they came every day and it was like sign language. We would just figure it out,” Siba said. “Honestly, it went above the physical aspects in Nicaragua and that’s what I think no one was expecting because we were there going for a court and we came back with so much more.”

On top of working with the Nicaraguans, the Wildcats’ cultural immersion included spearfishing, Spanish and soccer lessons, visiting a local school, and a sizable party to celebrate the new court.

When it was all said and done, the Wildcats from five different teams took home more than they ever expected, including a newly formed bond with each other.

“We actually talked a lot about how we’re trying to bring that back to K-State,” Lund said, “and find some ways that we can break the barriers within our student-athlete population and not having a rowing team and a track team but have a group of athletes that all interact and know each other and care about each other.”

“It’s funny how a group of random student-athletes became family. I have learned about each and every single one of the student-athletes who went and we’re much closer now,” Harrison added. “The memories gained in Nicaragua will forever be a tattoo in my heart. I’ll never forget this trip.”

By Corbin McGuire

Sourced from K-State Sports Extra, Today’s Sports Extra, August 8, 2017